Post Malone Can’t Shake Lawsuit Concerning His Big Hit, “Circles”
Steven T. Lowe
On April 18, 2022, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II for the Central District of California held that Tyler Armes, a professional musician, has no joint authorship rights to the final commercial release of Post Malone’s hit song, Circles. However, Judge Wright found that a trial must determine whether Mr. Armes is a joint author of the jam session recordings which gave rise to the song, Circles. Joint authorship in the jam session recordings would undoubtedly entitle Mr. Armes to a share of the profits from the hit song as it is “derivative” from their jam session recordings.
In 2020, Mr. Armes filed a lawsuit against Post Malone, Adam Feeny, Post Malone’s producer, and Universal Music Group Inc., arguing that he helped co-author the composition and sound recording of Circles with Post Malone and Adam Feeny during a recorded studio jam session that Post Malone’s manager invited Mr. Armes to. Since that session, Mr. Armes alleges that Post Malone and Adam Feeny have failed to give him proper co-writer credits or pay him a share of the profits. Subsequently, on October 19, 2020, Judge Wright denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss Mr. Armes’ claim to co-authorship of the musical composition of Circles but did grant the defendants’ motion to dismiss Mr. Armes’ claim alleging his co-authorship of the sound-recording of Circles. Judge Wright asserted that Mr. Armes’ claim for co-authorship of the sound recording failed because he did not plead facts that showed “‘the most important factor’: that he superintended control over its creation.” Furthermore, Mr. Armes’ claim for co-authorship of the composition survived the motion to dismiss brought on the grounds of failure to join necessary parties, as non-party writers, whom the defendants argued are required for claims concerning compositions, are not required to be joined according to Judge Wright.
n 2022, the defendants sought summary judgment on their own complaint, which asked for a “declaratory judgment” that Mr. Armes was not a joint author of the musical composition for Circle. Judge Wright clarified that both parties seem to miss the fact that there are two compositions at issue here, and each side is arguing for a claim in a different one. The two compositions at issue are the jam session composition and the commercial release composition, and Post Malone argued for the commercial release composition, while Mr. Armes’ complaint was broad enough to encompass both. Consequently, Judge Wright found that Mr. Armes failed to show a genuine factual dispute concerning his claim that he co-authored the composition that was actually released since he admitted that more work went into the composition after the jam session. However, Judge Wright found that there is a genuine factual dispute over the level of involvement Mr.Armes had with the jam session composition. Specifically, what musical material he contributed, whether he was a part of the decision to fix the file or copy it, whether Post Malone, Mr.Armes, and Mr. Feeny agreed to collaborate with one another, and whether he had any control over the composition. For those reasons, Judge Wright held that Mr. Armes’ claim to co-authorship of the jam session compositions requires a trial.
Author’s Note: This is basically a fair decision, albeit somewhat complex. To understand it, one also needs to know the difference between a “composition” and a “sound recording.” A sound recording is what the artist and producer create and is the actual recording itself. Composition is what the songwriter creates and generally consists of the melody and lyrics. Obviously, the same person could have an interest in both.
Tyler Armes is represented by Kelsey Leeker and Allison Hart of Lavely and Singer APC.
Post Malone, Adam Feeny, and the other plaintiffs are represented by David Steinberg of Mitchell Silberberg and Knupp LLP.
This case is Tyler Armes v. Austin Richard Post et al., case number 2:20-cv-03212, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
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